December 20, 2014



Historians and scholars are unanimous in their opinion that Pulakeshi II, the fourth emperor in this illustrious line of rulers was not only the greatest monarch to have sat on the throne of Badami but also count him amongst the best rulers in the history of the country. The tragedies that unfolded in the last few years of his reign apart, he won a series of victories in his remarkable military career, the crowning glory of which was his outstanding win over Emperor Harshavardhan when he tried to invade the Deccan. Of course, this is just one aspect of his life; besides being a military genius, he was also an able administrator as confirmed by records of the Chinese pilgrim Xuangzang. However, the question that I would like to attempt to answer in this post is one that has intrigued me for long now - After Pulakeshi II, who is the 'second greatest' Chalukyan emperor? In my opinion, there are five major contenders and over the course of this post, I would like to evaluate each one of these and try to arrive at a 'satisfactory' conclusion.

The first of these is Mangalesa, the uncle and immediate predecessor of Immadi Pulakeshi. Many will be surprised by the fact that I have included him in this exercise; after all, he is not spoken about in 'high regards' even in the dynastic records that generally tend to overrate the achievements of even the 'weakest' of the kings. The reason for him being 'overlooked' in the Chalukyan inscriptions, of course is pretty clear. His refusal to hand over the reins of the government to his nephew when the latter came of age is largely seen as 'act of betrayal' and a display of 'extreme selfishness'. Though he is wrong if you consider the 'law of primogeniture' but I have chosen to ignore this since I believe that his contribution in strengthening the Badami Chalukya clan has largely been overlooked.

Although he inherited a pretty stable kingdom, Mangalesa's conquests along the western coast are extremely important as far as the history of this clan is concerned. Apart from checking the ambitions of chiefs in the region and forcing them to submit to the Vatapi court, it also gave the Chalukyas access to the ports like Goa which were important centres of trade, especially in Arabian horses. Moreover, he was, in my opinion, the first king of Badami to pursue a policy of territorial expansion. His victory over the Kalachuris helped in adding areas in modern day Maharashtra to the Chalukyan kingdom. However, the reason why he fails in the race to be the 'second' best is that in spite of being in power for over a decade he failed to defend his throne against his nephew. This clearly shows that there was a strong coterie in the royal court that opposed Mangalesa and he failed in keeping a watch over their activities.

Another Chalukyan monarch who makes a strong case for himself is Vinayaditya - the sixth ruler of this clan. If the dynastic records are to be believed, he led a strong army and prevailed over a powerful king in the North. Thus while Pulakeshi was successful in repulsing Harsha's invasion, his grandson is credited to have crossed the Narmada and defeated a strong king ruling in the area of the Gangetic plain. He is also hailed as yielding supremacy over the kings of faraway lands like Persia, Ceylon and Kamera which some historians identify as the Khmer kingdom in modern day Cambodia. The problem however is that, at present we have no credible source to corroborate these rather tall claims which sound more like figment of imagination of a royal poet intend to glorify his master's achievements. We still do not have any information about the North Indian ruler who was beaten by Vinayaditya nor is there any mention in the history of Persia and Cambodia that their rulers paid tribute to the Badami kings. Also, in case the dynastic records are right, then Vinayaditya might well be the greatest of all the Chalukyan rulers surpassing even the famous Immadi Pulakeshi.

Most of the Badami Chalukyan kings had imperialistic ambitions and waged wars to win more territories and wealth. A notable exception to this was the third contender - Vijayaditya. His 37 year long reign was the longest for any ruler of his family and was marked by general peace and prosperity. In fact, it was also in the last days of his career that the family won a huge victory over their arch rivals - the Pallavas of Kanchi. Though I place him higher over the likes of Mangalesa and Vinayaditya, I still believe that he was not the 'second' best ruler of this dynasty. The reason is simple; I believe that for a ruler to be in the 'great' club, a ruler needs to be a great general and an efficient administrator. While Vijayaditya gets full marks for administration, the fact remains that as of now, we are not aware of any of his major military exploits. The lone campaign against the Pallavas too was headed by the crown prince about whom we will discuss next.

Vikramaditya II, the last of the great Chalukyan kings did something that even Pulakeshi could not; he managed to comprehensively defeat the Pallavas, not once, not twice but on three different occasions. The first of these was as the crown prince during the reign of his father Vijayaditya, the second as the King and third was an expedition led by his son Kirtivarman II. The death of Pulakeshi II on the battle field at the hands of Narsimhavarman I, the subsequent Pallava sacking of Vatapi and the inscription that their king left behind there were a great cause of embarrassment for this family. It was Vikramaditya's triple victories that finally ended this humiliation. Moreover, unlike the Pallavas, the Chalukyas did not ransack their capital; in fact, the Chalukyan emperor left his own inscription in Kanchi wherein it is mentioned that he made several grants to the temples and the priests, clearly indicating that he was a considerate monarch too. Besides, it was during his reign that Avanjijanasraya Pulakeshi of the Lata branch stemmed the advances of an Arab army. Thus, as far as warfare is concerned, Vikramaditya II is perhaps next only to Immadi Pulakeshi as far as the Badami Chalukyas are concerned.

So, is he the 'second' greatest? Ahh, I don't think so. The Chalukyan Empire crumbled within a decade after the death of Vikramaditya II and the seeds of destruction were sowed during his time. Though he won a major victory over the Arabs in the north, I think that this ruler concentrated most of his energies in the south. So determined was he in destroying the Pallavas that he in a sense ignored the meteoric rise of two families in this part of the world - the Rashtrakutas under Dantidurga and the Pandyas who would eventually diminish the glory of the Badami court. Like Pulakeshi II, the constant wars that he waged would have taken a toll on the state exchequer. Lastly, an important mistake that he made was that so involved was he in the politics of southern Deccan that he completely ignored the northern frontier.

The final contender in this race is Pulakeshi's own son Vikramaditya I. As mentioned earlier, after the defeat and death of his father, the great Pallava emperor Narshimavarman I captured and sacked Vatapi. For a period of 13 years, the Chalukyan capital remained in the hands of their bitter rivals. It was a critical period in the history of this dynasty and our understanding of it as yet is quite limited. All we are sure about is that it was Vikramaditya II who succeeded in driving the Kanchi army out of Badami and restoring the Chalukyan pride to some extent. Thus in some ways, he rebuilt the Vatapi kingdom following its devastation at the hands of Narshimavarman I. In his 25 year long reign as the monarch, he is said to have defeated the Pandyas, the Chola sand the Cheras who had allied with the Kanchi king during the Chalukya-Pallava conflict. Also, we know from inscriptions that he continued to get tribute from the Latas, the Gujjaras and the Malavas. Hence, except for Vengi which was by now an independent kingdom, the extent of his empire was next only to his father. He also undertook a campaign against the Kanchi kings but we are not sure as to what was the ultimate result of this conflict as both sides claim victory.

Unlike his namesake, Vikramaditya I could never achieve a complete victory over the Pallavas. However, in my opinion, that cannot be a yardstick to measure greatness. If it was not for him, the Badami Chalukya dynasty would have passed into oblivion following the death of Pulakaeshi II. He literally rebuilt the kingdom from pieces, pushed out the Pallavas and reaffirmed his family's hold over regions up to Southern Gujarat. He was vigilant enough to check the ambitions of his feudatories and the empire survived for nearly a century after his death. Of course, we cannot deny that he was lucky enough to have strong successors like Vinayaditya, Vijayaditya and Vikramaditya II. But then, had it not been for the strong leadership provided by him during the time of crisis, the Chalukyan power would have ended with the death of Pulakeshi II.

Thus, I believe that Immadi Pulakeshi's son and successor Vikramaditya I who was the next best ruler to have occupied the Badami throne followed closely by his great grandson Vikramaditya II at number three.